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India has natural resource capacity to achieve nutrition security, reduce health risks and improve environmental sustainability


Sustainable development of India’s food system must ensure a growing population is fed while minimizing both widespread malnutrition and the environmental impacts of food production. After assessing current adequacy of nutrient supplies at the national level, associated natural resource use (land, fresh water) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we apply an integrated subnational environmental and nutritional optimization approach to explore resource constraints that might limit the achievement of national food self-sufficiency goals. We find that India currently has the capacity to produce sufficient amounts of nutritious foods, supplying vitamins and minerals that would mostly exceed requirements. Regional cropland use could be reduced by up to 50%, water demand by up to 65% and combined resource inputs by up to 40% while still supporting adequate nutrition. Associated GHG emissions would decline by 26–34% and could possibly be sequestered in agroforestry systems. Such dietary shifts could lower the number of diet-related premature deaths by 14–30%. Achieving these potential gains, however, would require a major transition from current production and consumption patterns, particularly of refined cereals, to free-up resources for more traditional and nutritious foods.

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Fig. 1: Current average food supply (A) versus potential optimized food supply (P).
Fig. 2: Relative potential regional reductions of irrigation water (W), cropland (L) and combined resource use (C).
Fig. 3: Micronutrient supply of average, potential maximized and potential under resource-constrained diets.
Fig. 4: Reduction in deaths as a result of improved food supply.

Data availability

The data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article and its Supplementary Information.

Code availability

Code used for this study is included in the Supplementary methods.


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We thank the Rockefeller Foundation for financial support. We are grateful for F. Harris and A. Dangour providing a critical review and advice on our analysis. We thank D. Wang for his support with the addition of health outcome estimates to our dietary data, M. Smith for his advice on the use of his dataset and C. Watson for providing complementary research on agroforestry systems.

Author information




K.D., S.S.M. and W.W. designed the study. K.D. developed the modelling approach. K.D., K.F.D., C.G. and M.H. collected and managed data. K.D. and K.F.D. analysed water-use data; K.D., C.G. and M.H. processed livestock emission data. K.D., W.W. and S.N.B. evaluated diet-related health risk data. K.D. wrote the draft and designed the graphs and maps. K.D., K.F.D., C.G., M.H., M.S., S.N.B., S.S.M. and W.W. contributed to the writing of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kerstin Damerau.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary background information, results, discussion and methods of analysis.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data

We provide generated data on regional and national environmental footprints, national food exports, an analysis on cost of cultivation, dietary adequacy of current and modelled food supplies, and estimates on potential diet-related health risk reductions.

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Damerau, K., Davis, K.F., Godde, C. et al. India has natural resource capacity to achieve nutrition security, reduce health risks and improve environmental sustainability. Nat Food 1, 631–639 (2020).

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